Port Fairy Pelagic report for 9 Nov 2003

Subject: Port Fairy Pelagic report for 9 Nov 2003
From: "Mike Carter" <>
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2003 11:08:28 -0000

OBSERVERS: Rob Berry, Harry Clarke, Gail D’Alton, Giles Daubeney, Maarten Hulzebosch, Frank Pierce, Charles Smith, Jenny Spry, Dave Stickney, Sally Symonds, Glenn White & Mike Carter (leader).

WEATHER: A ridge of high pressure was centred over Bass Strait. Thin cloud provided 8/8 cover, finally clearing at 15.00. Light was good, with excellent visibility. Cool. S wind 5-10 knots inshore at first. Calm beyond the shelf and in p.m., (less than forecast). 

SEA: 0.5 to 1 m seas on a 2-4 m swell inshore at first, but a smooth sea on a long, low swell in pelagic waters and throughout the p.m. So mostly a comfortable ride, but a bit bumpy going out. No-one sick.

ACTIVITY: Sailed at 06.50. Headed out on a COG of 207º at 12.5 Kts. Inshore waters (first 20 km), were almost devoid of birds but we did get excellent views of a Common Diving Petrel and saw another just inside the shelf break. Off-shore waters were much more productive, especially between the 55 & 90 fathom contours, with fair numbers of feeding Short-tailed Shearwaters and Fairy Prions and 6 White-faced Storm-Petrels together. Gannets were passing eastwards and there was a few albatrosses stooging around. We crossed the shelf-break at 09.45 having paused occasionally. Pushing out into pelagic waters to 235 fathoms, there was scarcely a bird to be seen until our berley slick, rich with shark liver, attracted birds from beyond our visibility. These included the first of 2 White-chinned Petrels and the bird of the day, Victoria’s fourth-ever Black-bellied Storm-Petrel. We had excellent views and were able to study it at leisure for about 10 minutes feeding to within 30 m of the boat. This was a white-bellied morph and being relevant to recent controversy on the ID of this group and the suspected rediscovery of the New Zealand Storm-Petrel, deserves more detailed discussion. If the photographs are any good, available in about a week, this may have to be in another forum.   

 In the pelagic zone, we had made three berley stops within a 10 km circular area centred on 38º50.0’S 141º50.3E.

We departed the deeper waters at 12.30, rather earlier than usual, to allow time in the off-shore zone where we had encountered prions on the way out. A wise decision. Travelling at 13.5 Kts, by 13.00 we were at 38º44.5’S 141º47.3’E among dense flocks of Fairy Prions pattering over the surface (depth 77 fathoms) when our skipper spotted some whales. We stayed with these Sei Whales (ID confirmed by discussion with experts and in particular, distinguished from Fin Whale by a paper in print by Simon Mustoe) until 13.30. Since the species was not included in Peter Menkhorst’s Mammals of Victoria published in 1995, I thought this must be the first state record. Learned later that Peter Gill has had 10 sightings in recent years while researching Blue Whales in the area! Also present were 2 Arctic Terns

 When inshore, we cruised the western and northern shores of Lady Julia Percy Island (LJPI) from 15.10 to 15.30. Docked at 16.35.

MAMMALS: Australian Fur Seals: 1,000’s at LJPI and perhaps 30 remote at sea, most in the offshore zone where feeding seabird concentrated between the 55 & 90 fathom contours. Common Dolphins: pod of 10 beyond the shelf break @ 11.45 @ 38º49’S 141º49’E. SEI WHALES: Between 13.00 & 13.30 we watched at least 3 large animals (possibly accompanied by smaller young or another species of cetacean seen briefly), feeding together, maintaining close contact @ 38º44.5’S 141º47.3’E. Water depth was 77 fathoms. Dense flocks of Fairy Prions were feeding by surface seizing in the same area. We approached to within say 200 m and followed them as they criss-crossed the area. Several photos were obtained but it will be a week or so before these are available. They were still present when we left.

BIRDS: 19 species of seabird beyond the river mouth indicated limited diversity and only two, Short-tailed Shearwater and Fairy Prion could be considered to be abundant. Most species were relatively scarce. Highlights are in capitals. Unless noted otherwise, those listed below were near or beyond the shelf break (i.e. pelagic).

Little Penguin:  4 on LJPI.

Common Diving-Petrel: 2. 1 inshore & 1 offshore in a.m.

Great-winged Petrel: 30 (20). 10 nominate race, 20 gouldi.

WHITE-CHINNED PETREL: 2 (1), both photographed.

Fairy Prion: > 1,000 (200) offshore & 15 pelagic.

Short-tailed Shearwater: >3,000 offshore, 5 inshore & 10 pelagic.

Black-browed Albatross: nom. race, 6 (2). 3 off, 3 inshore. All sub-ads. or juvs.

                                            impavida, 10 (4). 5 adults, 5 sub-ads.

Shy Albatross cauta: 70 (25). 15 offshore. 60 adults, 9 sub-adults, 1 juv.

Yellow-nosed Albatross: 8 (2). 5 offshore. No adults, 1 sub-adult, 1 juv.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel: 11 (3). 3 offshore.

Grey-backed Storm-Petrel: 1.

White-faced Storm-Petrel: 15 (6). 9 offshore.


Australasian Gannet: c.250. 3 inshore, c.250 offshore, none pelagic.

Black-faced Cormorant: 5 on LJPI.

Kelp Gull: 2 adults on LJPI.

Silver Gull: 7 on LJPI.

Crested Tern: 3 only, 2 offshore & 1 pelagic.

ARCTIC TERN: 2 singly, retaining much breeding plumage, offshore.

Mike Carter
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mt Eliza    VIC     3930
Ph:  (03) 9787 7136
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